LITTLE ROCK — The Senate chairman of the legislative Joint Budget Committee said Thursday he opposes tapping the state’s end-of-the-year surplus to help cover a Medicaid shortfall, a method that both Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe have embraced.
“It is a terrible idea to take one time money to fund ongoing expenditures. Probably it will have to happen, but it is a terrible idea,” Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, told more than 500 municipal officials attending the winter conference of the Arkansas Municipal League.
For months, officials of the state Department of Human Services have projected that the government program for the poor, the elderly and the disabled would not meet its budget, though Beebe said in his state-of-the-state address this week that the shortfall would be less than the most recent estimate, $139 million by the end of the fiscal year.
Beebe, long an opponent of using one-time funds for ongoing state expenses as a state senator for 20 years, has proposed using a combination of surplus funds, general revenue, efficiency measures and cuts to state Department of Human Services programs to address the shortfall.
Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, and House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, have said they they want to address the Medicaid shortfall by using a larger share of the surplus than Beebe has proposed and foregoing cuts to services.
Beebe said Thursday he would soon release a new, lower Medicaid shortfall estimate.
Teague was one of several legislators who spoke to the city officials and later answered questions, mostly on the Medicaid shortfall and the proposed expansion of Medicaid to cover an additional 250,000 working poor.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, got the biggest round of applause from the crowd when she said that the Medicaid system in Arkansas is broken and needs to be reformed.
“I’ve seen it, and I know it, and I’ve talked to the taxpayers of this state,” said Irvin, who noted that her husband is a physician. “I owe it to the people of this state to take that very seriously before we decide to expand something that is already broken. We’ve got to make sure that the programs that we are currently offering work and are not dysfunctional.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said he was among a group of lawmakers working of legislation to address fraud and abuse of Medicaid.